My goal with my son is to replicate the successes of my maternal aunt and uncles with my male cousins. These cousins attended top-ranked state colleges and currently live middle or upper-middle-class lives as Black men with stable careers. When I encounter anything that may help with this goal, it grabs my attention. In my post reviewing the book The Diverse Schools Dilemma I breezed past the topic of African American students, as the book is mainly for white middle and upper-middle-class parents in socioeconomically diverse areas. I vaguely mentioned there was information for middle-class Black students, particularly black boys. I decided to follow up with another post.
Challenges for Black Boys
Middle-class Black boys typically do not necessarily face the same problems as lower income Black boys, such as hunger, poor housing, and violence. Academically, the middle-class African American students score higher than their lower-income peers, but there is a gap between them and their white middle-class peers. Diverse Schools Dilemma mentions Nigerian-American anthropologist John Ogbu, and his book Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement. Ogbu looked into why the gap existed, by conducting a study in the upper-middle-class area of Shaker Heights, OH. Ogbu’s conclusions were that the Black students and their teachers fed off each other’s low expectations, and for teenagers, there was a fear of “acting white.” Diverse Schools Dilemma added to this by pointing to another study about teens and popularity, and for African American teen males, the road the popularity was through sports, not stellar academics. Peer pressure and peer groups were other challenges for the black male student. This left me with the conclusion I would need to curate my son’s peer group.
Tools to Succeed in School
Diverse Schools Dilemma suggested parents to use the website Great Schools to judge if their kids would be okay academically. The idea was to look at test and other scores and pull out the data for white kids. I decided to do the reverse, and look at the data for black students. Sometimes the answer was there, a lot of times, not. So I decided to go to the sources of the data, Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and DC Public Schools (DCPS). To my shock, I discovered black students scoring poorly in highly rated elementary schools with impressive PARRC scores. I decided to dig deeper and go to the data source to slice the data even thinner. Looking at test scores for Black boys in DC public and charter schools was just depressing. Yet, there were a few bright spots, and I discovered which DC schools (KIPP, DC Scholars, and DC Prep for 3rd graders) were serving African American male students and providing a space for them to flourish academically.
Diverse Schools Dilemma’s suggestions helped me envision a plan for my son’s education, up until middle school. After elementary school, things get tricky. The book has a suggestion to help middle-class parents of African-American boys overcome the cycle of low expectations, decide excelling academically is a Black thing, and be in a peer group that will push a young man to do and be his best. Unfortunately, the solution is not cheap, it’s a private school. Not just a private school, a private school with a critical mass of students of color. It isn’t the only solution, but a public school program the book highlights is so complex and nuanced I would not trust DCPS or a charter to be able to implement or maintain it. There are a number of predominately African-American private schools in the District of Columbia, but that would be another post for another time.
What books have you read or decisions you have made to ensure your child does well academically?